December 2011 Archives

2012

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There's nothing like a mile marker to give you the opportunity to look back and acknowledge what you lost, learned and gained during an increment of time or place. The real benefit of this moment of reflection is the chance to assess what you hope to learn and gain in the future. I've never been much for New Years and all of the sentimentality surrounding it, but I've recently come to appreciate the practicality of a clear end to one thing and a pronounced beginning to another.

2011 was a big year for me. I feel like I've just begun to come into my own as a backyard homesteader and perhaps even as a teacher and a writer. It's been really difficult to scrape by doing this, but I've managed, which is an accomplishment in itself. I've honed some of my weaker skills and have developed new, valuable ones. I've been given opportunities to share and have met people who seem genuinely interested in supporting and helping me. One of the most unexpected discoveries I've made during my time here is that New Yorkers care about more than just themselves. They care more about just getting ahead. I've never seen a group of people (my friends, specifically) more willing to jump to the chance to bolster their neighbor. Perhaps we are truly starting to understand that we need each other. I consider it an honor and a gift to be amongst so many inspiring, hearty folks. I hope to give to them even a fraction of what I gain from their presence in my life. I'd be nothing if it weren't for them.

There's been much good in this past year. I've only had what I consider to be one major failure this season; I took on more than I could handle and allowed myself to feel overwhelmed and unhappy about it. The excitement of actually being able to do what I love kind of got away from me, but I noticed quickly enough and plan to change. The beginning of this year will be about cutting the fat, so to speak. I plan to eliminate anything from my life that feels like dead weight or a distraction to more pressing matters and possibly hand it off to people better suited to the task if they want it. This year, I aspire to be better at letting go.

It's important to feel like I can depend on people for help more often. I am terrible at asking. I often just end up doing things myself because it seems like less work than explaining to someone how to do it. Perhaps that is true, but taking the time to get someone else on board to lighten the workload means that I'll spend less time crying and pulling my hair out when I feel like there aren't enough hours in the day for all I need to accomplish. People want to be counted on to some degree, I think. But they also want to be treated as though they can handle the job without having someone peering over their shoulder counseling them the whole time. It's a bad habit of mine and it needs to stop.

I don't have particularly lofty goals for the next year. I want to streamline my day-to-day so that it's not so oppressive. I want to perfect my curriculum so that my classes are second-to-none. I want a reputation for being dedicated and pleasant to work with among my clients and students. I want produce an amazing book that people are happy to spend their hard-earned money on. I want to keep challenging myself. I want to plan for the future. I can have these things and I will. I'm willing to put the work in.

I dream for a family and a home of my own one day. I feel myself slinking ever closer to making it real. I am on the right track. I can feel it. Each day I wake knowing I'll be doing something that matters. As a life long fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of gal, the feeling of purposeful living is a new and welcome change. Let's see if it sticks!

To all of my readers, I wish you a purposeful New Year. May 2012 be the year that matters!

-Meg

As a beekeeper and instructor, it is my long term goal to get as many people into urban beekeeping as each city can support. I've developed a hard sell that I have taken to pitching at anyone who seems even remotely interested in hearing it. While having your own brand of honey is going to be a top reason for most, there are plenty of other selling points. Beekeeping has, for me, been one of the most fun and engaging things I've ever gotten tangled up in. To that, here are my top 10 reasons to become a beekeeper.

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10. You can threaten people you don't like with a handful of bees in the face and they won't think you are joking.

9. You'll have even more friends to say hello to on the street...about 40,000+ more!

8. You get to be known as the "crazy beekeeper friend" by your peers, which gives you carte blanche to act like a nut.

7. You'll end up with superior upper body strength from lifting honey supers and carrying them up and down rickety ladders.

6. People will think you're a total badass when you say "Getting stung doesn't even hurt anymore" in response to the question "Do you get stung a lot?"

5. Beeswax! Smear this stuff all over your body and you might just live forever!

4. Propolis and bee pollen! Consume this stuff daily and you might just live forever! (both 4 and 5 are strictly anecdotal coming from me, though apitherapist actually use these substances to heal people and animals!)

3. Beekeepers have the lowest cancer rate of any occupation! Cancer sucks. Bees are awesome. Nuff said.

2. Drinking a beer in a lawn chair watching the bees come in at night is pretty much the most relaxing thing ever.

1. As a treatment-free beekeeper, you'll be helping honeybees adapt to the multitude of new disease and environmental pressures out there! You CAN save the bees, even as a hobbyist!

Obviously, the honey and pollination aspect of being a beekeeper go without saying. They are the most important, but if you were unaware of the other perks, now you know! YOU'RE WELCOME!

If you want to learn to be an urban beekeeper, sign up for my online class (if you can't make the date, I'll send a replay link for you to watch at your leisure) or check out the classes offered by 3rd Ward and the New York Botanical Gardens! I teach the beekeeping courses at both fine establishments.

A lot has happened since my last critter update. I'm not even sure where to start so I'll start with the chickens (aka the bad news) first.

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My hens, sadly, have all but completely stopped laying. In the past, they laid through the winter at a respectable rate. They have just finished their second season so I should not be surprised if some of them stop laying all together, though I am hoping they pick up a little once the days start getting longer. All of the hens, save for Dumpling (pictured above), are molting...a very "soft" molt, so it's taking forever. During this time, the hens lose smaller amounts of feathers over a longer course of time. It's better for them because they don't have to contend with the blustery cold with most of their feathers gone, like if they had gone into a hard, quick molt. It's bad for us though, because we have to go longer without eggs, which they completely stop laying while they grow new feathers. If we were depending on the eggs for food, I probably would have culled them this spring and had some new egg layers ready to put in their place. I like these biddies too much for that, so here they are taking advantage of my weakness...for now.

As far as the rabbits are concerned, things are going as well as can be hoped for...

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Salad's litter is bright-eyed, friendly, and growing quickly. I expect to sell a couple for breeding to a friend who is also interested in raising rabbits for meat. I will pull a couple from Sal's bunch and a couple from Hazel's. With rabbits, it's ok if parents share partial genetics, like from the same father....it is not ok for them to breed with their sister, brother, father or mother. So, one of Hazel's does will be paired with one of Sal's bucks. Different mothers, same father.

Sal is having trouble with some nasty crusting inside of her ear. I have been swabbing the inside with propolis extract which she absolutely hates, but I think I will have to do a more extensive cleaning this weekend when I have an extra set of hands to help out with. I can't emphasize how important it is to do regular health checks. I should have caught this early on so it would have been less stressful for her.

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Hazel's litter is nice and fat. We lost the only runt in the litter last week. It never really stood a chance. It was easily half the size of the rest of the kits and very weak. I tried supplementing it's feeding but it was too far gone. It died in the night. I removed it's limp little body from the nest box and buried it in the garden where it would supply nutrition to the soil life. Nothing is ever a waste when you observe from the perspective of nature. That little kit might not have grown to feed me, but it will feed something else. If I have it my way, my body will go back to the soil to pay back my debt to it as well.

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I've had a few visitors this week, coming by to pick up chicken feed for their backyard flocks. Both times children accompanied them. I took them to see the rabbits and let them hold the irresistibly fuzzy kits. They loved them. I had to carefully navigate around the topic of rabbits being a food source. I don't want to be responsible for traumatizing youngsters. I'll leave that to their folks. One parent, surprisingly, was quite adamant that I be forthcoming with his sons about my intentions. "We eat meat...they need to know where it comes from." That's my kind of dad! I told them that some of them would become food for me and my neighbors to eat. They didn't seem shocked by it, but I wonder if they were old enough to understand what it meant without observing the bloody truth of it. Hell, I'm 31 years old and I feel like I've only begun to graze the surface.

Anyway, that's where things are around here right about now. I made a short video update of the rabbits too, so feel free to give it a watch if you'd like:

Family Pictures: Vol 1: Hunting

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Hey all!

I just got back from visiting family in Baltimore and took a much needed day of rest yesterday. I was coming down with a cold, but a day of napping and several cups of tea later I am feeling right as rain. The human body is an incredibly resilient thing.

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Neil and I exchanged some gifts when we both returned from our respective hometowns. I gave him some old cameras that my Granddad George used to take pictures with. You can still get film for them! He gave me a heavy duty meat grinder and Jackson Landers' The Beginner's Guide to Hunting Deer for Food. My boyfriend really knows what I like!

While I was in Maryland I took the opportunity to look through some of the pictures my mother had on hand, many of which were taken by my Granddad. Some of my favorites shots are the ones taken during his yearly hunting trips.

Here's an assortment of some of my favorites:

youngbuck.jpg (Granddad proudly posing with a young buck he bagged.)

hangingprizes.jpg (The men would skin and butcher their kills on the front porch. They would freeze some and make potted venison out of much of the rest, cooking and preserving it in Ball jars)

rabbithunt.jpg (Is it just me, or is this photo kinda gangsta? George and an unknown friend after a rabbit hunt.)

unclejohnny.jpg (Granddad and my Uncle Johnny outside of Lynchburg.)

Sorry for the quality of the pictures, there was no scanner present. I thought they were good enough to share even still. I'll be posting some other old family photos in the New Year once I catch up on some long overdue writing. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy and if you have any awesome old hunting photos of your family, feel free to share them on my Facebook page!

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I've been getting some requests to do online workshops for some of my fine readers that live outside of NYC so I've finally taken a hint!

My first web class will be on Sunday, January the 22nd as part of a three-session, 9 hour beekeeping intensive. It's going to be as robust and informative as the classes I teach in person here in the city, only with this class you can show up in your pajamas. Hell! Take the class naked for all I care!

In all seriousness though, we'll cover all the basics of beekeeping: honeybee anatomy and behavior, types of hives, urban forage, acquiring bees, hive management, honey harvesting, pests and diseases and winter management. It's going to be a lot of information, but the goal is to adequately visually demonstrate everything you need to know to get started with bees this spring.

My focus will be on treatment-free and passive pest and disease management but we will discuss other forms of treatment and discuss the pros and cons of utilizing them.

Check out the Eventbrite page for the class HERE!

There is truth to what people say about rabbits and their reproductive prowess. They certainly do know how to get things done in that department. I know this full well now. I've got 18 rabbits now. I started with 3.

For those of you who haven't been following the frequent rabbit posts, this summer I started keeping a few at Jewel Street Paradise after attending a workshop at the homestead of the amazing Jenna Woginrich of Cold Antler Farm. I went in with a basic understanding of rabbits and left with a brain brimming over with information and a breeding trio in my back seat. A buck and two does. Ghost, and his ladies Salad and Hazel.

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As far as breeding specimens go, they were pretty fine rabbits. They seemed robust and healthy to my novice eye. The only issue I had was with a little splaying on Sal's front legs which could have been a result of being a singleton or a slippery nesting box or poor genetics. That aside, she's such a wonderfully friendly, engaging critter that I thought she'd be perfect for handling demos one day when I feel comfortable enough teaching the basics of rabbit husbandry. Hazel would be the main lady I'd use for breeding. Her body is dense and round, with compact muscle mass and bright clear eyes and clean fur. She seemed to be the kind of rabbit that breeders would want to propagate more of. When I was ready, I'd mate her with Ghost and see how things went from there. Salad would assist me in teaching. I had it all figured out.

She's a funny lady though, Nature. I was busy cleaning cages outside one day and Salad was running around in the raised beds, kicking and jumping and having a grand time. Somehow Ghost managed to get out of his cage. When I noticed him (he couldn't have been out long) I grabbed him and put him back. He was no where near Sal when I spotted him so it didn't even occur to me that we'd have a litter on the way.

28 days later I was still ignorant to the fact that my favorite girl was expecting. She hadn't put on much weight and she wasn't carrying around straw in her mouth like a crazed bird. It was business as usual here, until one morning exactly one month ago I went down to feed the gang and found a pile of grey fluff in the back of Sal's lair. There were 7 little jellybeans in there, blind, deaf and helpless...but Salad turned out to be a wonderful mother. She's attentive, gentle and pretty much did everything right the first time. I'm proud of her. She's a good rabbit. All the instincts are there.


(Sal's big healthy buns snicker)

I wish I could say the same for Hazel. For all of her physical attributes, she's not the most motherly it seems. Yesterday, she kindled and is now mother to 8 speckled kits. Unlike Salad, she did gain a bit of weight and demonstrated some of the behavior of an expecting doe. One thing she did not do is pull fur for her nest.


(Hazel acting WAY preggers)

I attempted to put a nesting box into the cage when I saw her carrying around straw, but she ignored it and began nesting in another corner. I removed it while I waited for the kits to come. One they were born I placed a cloth-lined nesting box in the cage and gently laid the tiny kits together in the center, piling hay around them and what little fur I could pull from Hazel. She was very spooked and I decided that leaving her alone was the the better choice. I pulled some fur from Salad, and she was happy to just lie there and let me take what was needed. I also pulled apart a little dryer lint to cushion the nest and keep the vulnerable kits cozy. I gave Hazel some collard greens to distract her, but she was very aware of my presence and did not seem to care for it.

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It's hard to say how this litter will do. Dams (a mother rabbit) don't sit on the nest the way hens or other animals might. They go to the nest at night, feed the kits briefly and then leave them again, covered and protected. I'll only know if they've been tended to if they are warm each morning, bellies round with milk.

I'll let you all know how it goes.

A New Kid in Brooklyn!

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There's a great to place for Brooklynites far and wide to support the thriving and vibrant community of entrepreneurs we've got running things around this bustling borough. Dara Furlow, a chef, mother and all-around ballsy risk-taker created With Love, From Brooklyn, an e-commerce site dedicated to all things Brooklyn. Much like a mother hen and her chicks, Dara strives to help our local businesses thrive by bundling them in a way that gives the shoppers a sense of context but also creates well thought out gift options for those who want to keep it strictly Brooklyn-based.

Of course, I had to be involved! I contributed a curated selection of some of my favorite local goods. From rooftop grown honey and hot sauce to jams made from bootstrappin' badasses here in my neighborhood of Greenpoint, this selection celebrates seasonality, camaraderie and the urge to step to the beat of your own drum. To me that's what living here is all about!

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When you browse around the website. It's helpful to keep in mind that most of the goods you are seeing are made by people that mostly know one another, sometimes collaborate and have even lent a helping hand in growing each others businesses at one point or another...so you're not just seeing Brooklyn pitched as a buzz word to get your dollars. It's a real thing. Community, connection. Brooklyn is more than just a place. It's a state of mind! Those of you who live here can attest. It's one of many reasons I think Brooklyn might just be the best place on Earth!

So yeah, go shop at Dara's site and support small business and community growth!

<3M

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Ever since I brought my three rabbits back to Brooklyn with the intention of breeding them for meat and using their wonderful manure for the garden, there has been a notable change in me. Mostly in the form of a new self-image--I see myself less as a precious city girl, noodling around with the idea of farming and talking big about it. Raising your own livestock for meat ups the ante a bit. Now when I look in the mirror I see a real urban farmer, an actualized homesteader tackling the essentials of living unapologetically. For once I don't feel the need to explain myself to anyone and it's a great feeling.

I wanted acceptance for so long because I had believed the naysaying. "It's weird. You're crazy. Go live in the country." I thought maybe I was a little nuts, but now that I seem to have gained some approval from peers, I'm not sure what all the fuss was about. I'm just trying to get along on my own terms. How is that something I need permission from people for? It's out there for everyone to do, if they want. I hope many of you reading this now go out in the world and find that thing that makes you feel crazy at first, but eventually powerful and big inside. It's the only thing we all are truly entitled to, I think. The right to fight like hell for what we love. I fought and I believe I might have won.

Anyway, along with this shift in attitude, I've begun to feel a certain amount of separation from my peers...especially ones who don't seem to take the amount of work I put into all of this very seriously but still have the cojones to suggest they get something out of it. I realize that this is mostly my problem to deal with and that it's harmless, but I can't help but get a little hot in the head over one comment that has been coming up a lot lately. One that involves people talking in a rather cavalier tone about eating my rabbits.

I want to explain something about that. Raising livestock, especially on a small and intimate scale, is very challenging. It is hard to love something, see it's nobility and beauty and not only respect it, but know that you may mourn it when it's gone. My rabbits are not, and will never be just MEAT. I don't think like that and I am incapable of turning off those feelings. In fact, I don't want to. If you want to offend me quickly, talk about my rabbits like they are just meat, my bees like they just make honey for us to eat, or my chickens like they are just egg making machines. I promise you, you won't be invited to my place for dinner anytime soon.

With that in mind, I've got a request for the people who think that they can speak of eating the animals that I've spent every day doting on as if they are nothing but another meal they can pick up at some trendy Williamsburg eatery: Please don't do it. These living things are part of my life, and when I decide it is time for them to feed someone, it will be the people that lent a hand in making all of this possible that benefit, not those that stand by marveling at the sidelines and contributing nothing more than an opportunity for me to say "NO". I've put my heart and effort into all of this. I take it very seriously. A few special people around me do as well. They've opened their home to it, like my landlord has. They've taken time to help do nasty work like cleaning the chicken coop, scraping out the rabbits drop pans and turning the compost heap like my apprentice Ryan has done while I am away. They've come to teach me to do things I only have a rudimentary understanding of, like my friends Liz and Jerry and Tom have. It comes back to the same conversation many of us foodies have about respecting the work that farmers put into growing our food. Only, it's not just work....it's tears and love and guts too. Try not to belittle it. It's hurtful.

If you want have a real conversation about eating one of my rabbits, offer me a trade of some sort... give me something you've put your emotions and time and hard work into and I will feed you. Don't just expect that I'm going to just hand one over to you because quite frankly...I don't like ANYONE that much.

Reposting this from an email I sent out to all my apis-loving friends!

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"Hello Beekeepers, Wanna-bees and Honey Lovers!

This months meeting of the Backwards Beekeepers of NYC will take place at 61 Local in Brooklyn. Only this time, we'll be letting our veils down and having a good old time celebrating the past season of beekeeping! Beekeepers, bring some honey to share as we will have some wonderful locally made cheeses to pair with your liquid gold as well as some suggested brews to wash it all down. Non-beekeeping folk, bring all of your questions and interest as well as an apetite for some sweet stuff! We'll have honey from all over the city and some from other parts of the world!

Come on by, taste some honey, chat with some beekeepers and maybe make some new friends. Beekeepers, unlike their insect counterparts, do not sting!

61 Local is located at 61 Bergen St in lovely Cobble Hill, off of the Bergen F/G trains

The event starts at 7 pm and will continue until the beer runs dry! All are welcome so spread the word...you can RSVP on our Facebook invite and follow what we're up to on our fan page and blog!

ZZZB!

The NYC Backwards Beekeeping Gang!

P.S. Check out BBNYC member Kelly York's husband Zane's exhibit Stewards at Causey Contemporary in Brooklyn from December 16th-Jan 24th. He'll be showing an amazing painting of Kelly with her bees!"

I quit my job in May of 2010 and since then have been teaching, consulting and writing to pay the bills. I've never been happier, frankly, but none of the aforementioned jobs pay very much when compared to the exorbitant cost of living in NYC and since I am "freelance", it's never consistent. There are fat months and very lean months. I live hand to mouth with very little cash left over for fun stuff, like things that make doing the urban homesteader thing a little easier.

So this is my plea to Santa (or any generous readers with these things lying around in good condition): If you think I've been good this year, help a gal out. I don't care if the items on my list are used or new, my home (and workshops) could greatly benefit from them. And when I benefit, my readers benefit, my students benefit and my neighbors and friends benefit. I hate to be a beggar, but here goes nothing!

Meg's Homestead Needs List:

Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving (yup, I don't have a copy!)
Pressure canner
Hand-crank grain mill (really any brand that is capable of grinding corn and hard winter wheat)
Grow lights
Food dehydrator
Vinegar Crocks
Cheese making supplies

Santa, if you're out there can you lend a hard-working city farm girl a hand? Or, if any of my readers feel inclined, donate to the farm by clicking on the about page and I can just get these things on my own.

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from December 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

November 2011 is the previous archive.

January 2012 is the next archive.

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